Apple TV power cord? Old Roku or even a Tivo power supply? Wii U console charger? With the abundance of items that plug in, no one can you remember what is what. (Unless you are perhaps the valedictorian of an electrical school like my friend Kyle Harney.)
But there are ways to tame this mess.
Let’s start at the beginning, like any other organizing project: declutter what you don’t need.
So, you guessed it, unplug it all - the whole maze of cords behind that computer or TV and remove what you don't need. You want to start with a clean slate.
In fact, if you are organized enough to have a pile of cords in a nice storage box labeled cords, consider purging those, too.
Now, for what is left.
Pro Tip: You may need to stick colored dots or even masking tape on the cord’s end and on the plug-in so that you can track what came from where while you detangle.
Step One. Plug the cords back into the back of your computer (or other device.) As a part of this process, label your cords if you haven't already. There are two steps to labeling cords. (Do not plug the other end into the power strip yet.)
1. Label all cords near the area where the plug goes into the device. Labeling can be as simple as using painter’s tape, masking tape or “wasabi” tape that you fold back on itself around a cord. Or you can use a label maker - the tape sticks to itself. I’ve also used different colored drinking straws that can be labeled and neatly wrapped around the cord itself. You can also purchase fancy labels from organizing stores, too.
2. Label the cord near the end that actually plugs in to the power strip. It’s a pain in the knees to get down under your desk and unplug your printer without unplugging your modem by accident. So, label the end of the cord at the bottom, too.
Pro Tip: Label all cords the day you open the box of your new electronic toy.
Step Two. Group your common cords and corral them together. One of my favorite products is the zip-tie-like Millipede Cord. Another Hall-of-Famer is either a cable fabric cover (with a zipper) or a cable sleeve. Do your best not to tangle the cords as you group them. And yes, you may need to double-back you each cord.
Get Under-Desk Cords off the floor. For just about $10, you can get an under-the-desk cable basket from Ikea. Getting your cords off the floor makes a HUGE difference in terms of visual clutter.
Pro Tip: Keep in mind that you will want a little wiggle room for your cords in case you need to move a few components.
A word of caution, however. Not all cords are created equal just because they reside under your desk or behind your TV. As such, when you coil cords together in a cable sleeve or other cable management product, take care not to mix data cables (internet and phone) with electrical power.
The (low) voltage that runs through data cables that use “UTP” (unshielded twisted pairs) creates a magnetic field, which is a critical part of the communications chain. When you run this unshielded cabling next to electrical cables, the magnetic field can create noise and interference. Sometimes, the transmissions may not make it from Point A to Point B. In addition, transmission rates may be slow as communications across the cables are constantly retried.
For longer extension cords that are in storage, I repurpose a paper towel tube to keep the lines from tangling. Wrap the longer cord and slip the tube over it for an inexpensive and quick fix.